The BJP-led government in Maharashtra declared madrasas, or Islamic seminaries, that do not teach primary subjects such as maths and English, "non-schools" and their students "out-of-school" children on Thursday, sparking criticism from Muslim leaders and opposition parties who dubbed the move discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Minority affairs minister Eknath Khadse said the government took the step because madrasas do not provide children their constitutional right to formal education.
“Madrasas are giving students education on religion, not formal education. If a Hindu or Christian child wants to study in a madrasa, they will not be allowed. Thus, a madrasa is not a school but a source of religious education,” Khadse said.
“We have asked them to teach students other subjects as well. Otherwise, the madrasas will be considered as non-schools.”
Nearly 150,000 students study in 1,889 madrasas in Maharashtra, according to data provided by the state directorate of minorities, and the education department will conduct a survey on Saturday to identify children in schools thatdon’t follow the government-approved curriculum.
Each madrasa gets an annual subsidy, but the government warned that grants would stop if they failed to make science, mathematics, English and social sciences part of their curriculum.
The decision on madrasas comes two months after the government banned the sale and consumption of beef across the state, a step seen by many as taken to appease strident Hindu groups.
“No child should be discriminated along religious lines. We are going to take the issue in the state assembly,” said Congress spokesperson Sanjay Nirupam, calling the government’s decision unconstitutional.
The president of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Asaduddin Owaisi, questioned the rationale behind the government’s decision and asked if students getting Vedic education would also be considered “out-of-school” children.
“There are many madrasas that are teaching maths, English and science. Many madrasa students have gone ahead and cracked civil services exams,” he said.
The general secretary of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Maulana Mahmood Madani, described the move as “unacceptable”.
The government clarified that the aim was to ensure every child from the minority community got a chance to learn, get good-paying jobs and have a prosperous future.
Last year, the Union government allocated Rs 100 crore for modernisation of madrasas as part of its election promise to help Islamic seminaries “dovetail with modern requirements” and pull sections of minority communities out of poverty.
“We are ready to pay madrasas for giving students formal education and are ready to provide them teaching staff as well,” Khadse said.